The Ridges provide a serene escape

Living on campus close to academic buildings is convenient for students, but also presents the danger of falling into a habitual existence. Walking down the same bricks, waving to the same people, eating at the same places. I never wanted to fall into a routine like that- to the point where I lacked the desire to explore. On my long morning runs, I forced myself to venture off campus in hopes of finding new and exciting ground. At first, all I found was endless miles of bike path and, of course, Walmart.

A few weeks later, I stumbled upon The Ridges. I was aware that it was an extension of campus which had previously been an insane asylum. I expected to find typical research facilities with professors walking around, and not much scenery.

Instead, what I found looked deserted and eerie. Beautiful red brick buildings graced with ivy stood amid the silence. Parts of the brick had eroded, creating a look of authenticity and age.  The structures were unique as was the trail, which took me up a massive hill and spilled into a thick wood. Along the side there were gravestones that had clearly withstood the test of time.  I followed along, mesmerized by the stillness and smell of fresh pine.

Sunset at The Ridges, photo by Julie Ciotola

My first experience with The Ridges soon led to dozens more, and each time I went back I discovered something new. I found an endless hill that led to a stellar view of the sunset. I found a long staircase that dropped off on a brick road. I found graffiti covering an old silo. Best of all, I found myself lost amid the trees surrounded by the unknown.

For non-runners, The Ridges provide a more calming escape. The different trails are ideal for a long hike. The air is fresh and the noises are natural, a dramatic change from downtown Athens. Even on a sunny afternoon, The Ridges are rarely crowded with people. Sometimes the only mark of civilization is muddy tracks or paw prints etched on the path.

At night the atmosphere is cool and spooky. The graveyards are much less inviting, yet they provoke thoughts of the asylum’s patients who lived and died there. With the only light being the moon’s natural glow, a walk through The Ridges is a much different experience. Taking the time to stop and appreciate the dark sky is perhaps the best part, because scores of stars are visible from the top of the cemetery hill.

Evening hiking, photo by Julie Ciotola

Whether it’s a morning run, afternoon hike or evening trip, The Ridges offer a solemn escape from chaotic life. It’s a staple of the Athens community for its rich history and opportunity for endless exploration. The only requirement is an open mind willing to wander.

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Author: Julie Ciotola

Julie Ciotola

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